Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
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Meet Andrew Graham – MOFGA's Community Engagement Coordinator

Andrew Graham, MOFGA’s community engagement coordinator

Andrew Graham, MOFGA’s community engagement coordinator

December 1, 2018

Andrew Graham, MOFGA’s community engagement coordinator, grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Kimberton Waldorf School from pre-school through grade 12, and in 2004 moved with his family to Vermont. He earned a bachelor’s degree in community and international development from the University of Vermont and then spent two years with AmeriCorps: one year doing hurricane recovery on the Gulf Coast with the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and one year with AmeriCorps VISTA doing poverty remediation work in Vermont. He moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2011, and lived at an urban farm co-op before moving to Keene, New Hampshire, to attend Antioch University, where he earned a master’s degree in environmental studies. Graham loves to cook and do all things related to food, including growing and processing it. A Quaker, he believes that each of us has a duty to be an ally to people who are suffering and to speak up on behalf of people who are disenfranchised. His values include economic localism and communal resource-sharing. He lives at Full Fork Farm in China, Maine.

Q. What does your job of community engagement coordinator involve?

A. The part of my job that is probably most recognizable to the public is the volunteer coordinator for the Common Ground Country Fair. I promote volunteering at the Fair and recruit and register volunteers. I hope to work more with the Fair volunteer staff, who coordinate much of the Fair and volunteer an amazing amount of time to ensuring that the event happens each year.

The Fair takes up the majority of my time for four or five months. During the rest of the year, I work with our year-round volunteers, who come in almost every Wednesday. I also work closely with other staff to put on volunteer workdays for Earth Day in April and Common Ground Cleanup Day in October, and with volunteer groups from schools who help with the upkeep of our grounds. Volunteers help at many MOFGA events, from the Seed Swap to Great Maine Apple Day. Possibly my favorite event, Farm & Homestead Day in June, is run almost entirely by volunteers!

I attend outreach events when possible, or try to recruit volunteers in other parts of Maine to table for MOFGA at those events. I have also been trying to rebuild MOFGA’s county chapter structure by strengthening connections with existing chapters and supporting the creation of the new York County chapter.

Q. In the 15 months that you’ve been working for MOFGA, what has surprised you most?

A. The breadth of the MOFGA community. Many people from many walks of life are part of the MOFGA community, particularly around the Fair. MOFGA itself has so many facets that many communities interact with different parts of the organization. Keeping on top of all the activities is hard! I look forward to being part of MOFGA’s outreach efforts to bring even more people in Maine on board with organic farming, gardening and eating.

Q. What is it like to coordinate the 2,000 volunteers who donate their time to MOFGA? How do you do that? How many of those 2,000 volunteer for events or activities other than MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair?

A. It’s a full-time job! We transitioned to a new volunteer registration platform this year, which was a lot of work but will give us more capability. The weeks right before the Fair are the busiest, with many people registering at the last minute (volunteer registration goes up in June), calling me, and with volunteers at Common Ground each day helping to set up for the Fair. I need to ensure that projects are lined up and staff are available to supervise or answer questions.

Outside of the Fair we have at least 50 volunteers active on various committees, and about 20 who volunteer throughout the year on projects in the office, the kitchen and on the grounds. In 2019 we will use our new database capability to reach out to people in different areas of Maine to volunteer at events in their areas to which MOFGA has been invited.

Q. Did your time with AmeriCorps NCCC on the Gulf Coast help inform you about preparing for the predicted high winds at the Common Ground Country Fair this year?

A. I have a fair amount of training in using volunteers for emergency response and recovery outside of what is handled by emergency management professionals. There are some accepted best practices to engage people when preparing for such events. The high wind event gave MOFGA an opportunity to examine its emergency response protocol during the Fair, and I think we learned some lessons. We hope to be able to communicate with people better in the future, should a similar situation arise. That said, much of what I did on the Gulf Coast focused on recovery and interacting with people who had had their lives upended. That experience certainly helped with putting the fairgrounds back together on Saturday morning and talking to people about everything that occurred.

Q. You’ve lived in diverse places around the United States. How does Maine compare with those other places?

A. Maine has the highest median age, the highest percentage of people living rurally, and the second whitest population in the country, so it is distinct in those respects. Maine is very large, so I spend about the same amount of time in my car as I did on the West Coast. Maine shares many attributes with western Oregon and Washington, including a coastal culture on a rocky, cold-water coast, as well as large rivers, a rich farm belt, and logging and other extractive industries in rural areas. One thing that I like about Maine is that – at least where I live – people with different viewpoints live near and talk to each other, so opportunities exist for more civil discourse about big topics than in other places I’ve lived.

Q. What’s your favorite food to grow and prepare?

A. I like growing kale, because it’s relatively simple and I could eat it every day. However, I grew potatoes this year, because now that I live in Maine I felt obliged. Potatoes are a wonderful tuber in many regards, including that they’re fun to harvest with children, and teaching kids about gardening is important. It’s a treasure hunt! There are so many varieties and methods of preparation. One of my favorite potato recipes is German warm potato salad, with hard-boiled eggs, bacon, plenty of celery and parsley, and a vinegar dressing.

Q. If you were to volunteer for one thing for MOFGA, what would it be?

A. Farm & Homestead Day! This June event is one of my favorite things about working at MOFGA, and it is planned and run almost entirely by volunteers. It has all the wonderful learning opportunities of the Fair, without all the buying and selling, and crowds and traffic. All of the presenters are volunteers, and it’s free. I would also love to volunteer in one of the volunteer check-in tents at the Fair gates, helping volunteers sign in and get into the Fair. The people who do that have my everlasting gratitude and really help the Fair happen, since almost all volunteers funnel through one of those tents.

 

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